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Thursday, April 18
The Indiana Daily Student

crime & courts

BHSN combats unprecedented student porn problem

Principal Jeffry Henderson learned of the explicit photos circulating throughout Bloomington High School North when one girl met with administration to discuss a conflict she was having with another student.

She had sent a nude photo to her boyfriend, and then, when they broke up, he showed it to a friend. Since then, at least 100 students have seen the photo, and her conflict was with one of them.

Police discovered 18 other students have sent explicit photos of themselves.
Henderson said in his nine years as principal, he has never seen an incident so widespread.

“Nothing to this extent at all,” he said.

Within a few days of alerting the administration, a case of a girl sending a sexy photo to her boyfriend turned into a massive investigation into child pornography. So far, it appears everyone involved was younger than 18 years old.

The section on child pornography in the Indiana Code has been amended three times in response to situations like this.  

Because of the code, there are exemptions from child pornography when it comes to minors in dating relationships, contingent on certain relative ages. However, when a photo from a relationship is shown to a third party, it crosses the line into child pornography.

Aviva Orenstein, a professor in the Maurer School of Law, said the law might help persuade kids to be more careful when it comes to sexual photos. Even if it’s not originally child pornography, it’s just one upload away from becoming that, she said.

“Once it’s out there, it can be sent anywhere,” she said. “It could become child pornography when some goofy guy sends it to his friend, who then puts it on his Facebook page, and then that friend puts it on the Internet. And then you have a picture of a nude 14-year-old, and that’s not OK.”

Orenstein said the original girl could also, in theory, be found in possession of child pornography for having a nude photo of herself, but it’s unlikely this would occur. Distribution is the area in which problems arise, in this case.

The Monroe County prosecutor has yet to determine whether charges will be filed against the students involved. The office declined to comment because the case involves minors.

Capt. Joe Qualters of the Bloomington Police Department confirmed it’s too early to know whether the prosecutor will go forward with charges.

“There have been preliminary discussions with the prosecutor’s office about charges, but nothing has been determined since the case is still under investigation,” he said via email. “It is possible that the event will serve as an opportunity to educate students on the legal and social implications related to this type of activity.”

Qualters said if charges are pressed, possible charges could include child exploitation, intimidation and harassing communications. Child exploitation is considered a class C felony.

This is not a problem exclusive to BHSN. Qualters said they have received reports from area middle schools in the past as well.

Across the country, minors have been put on trial and charged as sex offenders for sexting scandals such as this. If any adolescent is labeled a sex offender, it’s a label that he or she most likely carries for life, just like any other sex offender.

“I would describe it as a problem for teenagers across the country,” Henderson said.
In the weeks leading up to the investigation, Henderson said BHSN released a video to parents Jan. 17 about how to teach technological privacy and safety to avoid situations like this. It was produced in conjunction with the prosecutor’s office and the Monroe County School System.

On Feb. 3 — weeks before the investigation began Feb. 25 — the school also invited panelists to discuss these issues in depth with parents of students.

“Obviously, this (incident) then causes us to take pause and redouble our efforts,” Henderson said.

Parents have been informed of the investigation through a letter from BHSN. Henderson also said a significant number of parents met with the detective.

Though the issue of teens taking explicit photos can spark much debate, Orenstein said she thinks it’s more of a cultural problem than a law problem. She said students need to understand the laws are intended to protect them.

“The line from when it turns from dating behavior to something sinister, it can happen in a nanosecond,” she said.

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